In 10 years, an additional 1.8 million trucks will be on the road; in 20 years, for every two trucks today, another one will be added. Already bottlenecks on major highways used by truckers every day are adding millions of dollars to the cost of food, goods and manufacturing equipment for American consumers. As a result, according to a new report from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the transportation system that supports the movement of freight across America is facing a crisis.
AASHTO's study, Unlocking Freight, analyzes America's freight system that finds that highways, railroads, ports, waterways, and airports require investments well beyond current levels to maintain—much less improve—their performance. The report identifies key projects in 30 states that would improve freight delivery and dependability, and offers a three-point plan to address what is needed to relieve freight congestion, generate jobs and improve productivity.
"The simple fact is: no transportation, no economy. They are inseparable. We must invest to maintain and strengthen the American transconomy," says Larry "Butch" Brown, president of AASHTO and executive director of the Mississippi DOT. "Congress must invest in all transportation modes, from waterways to roads and rails to get us where we need to be as a competitive nation. Millions of jobs and our nation's long-term economic health depend on it."
Despite more long-distance freight being moved by intermodal rail, the report finds that trucks will still carry 74% of the load. On average, 10,500 trucks a day travel some segments of the Interstate Highway System today. By 2035, this will increase to 22,700 commercial trucks for these portions of the Interstate, with the most heavily used segments seeing upwards of 50,000 trucks a day. Yet between 1980 and 2006, traffic on the interstate highway system increased by 150% while interstate capacity increased by only 15%. The report identifies the 1,000 miles of most heavily traveled highways used by trucks.
"It's unfortunate that many of the 35 million travelers who hit the road [recently] for the Fourth of July holiday spent hours of their vacation time stuck in traffic," says John Horsley, AASHTO's executive director. "Ten thousand commercial trucks face that kind of gridlock everyday."
"The nation's multimodal freight transportation system directly affects economic development, current and future jobs, and the quality of life in our communities," says Ohio DOT director Jolene Molitoris. "Today the nation's freight transportation system supports more than 10 million jobs, from couriers, truckers, laborers, shippers, railroad conductors and mechanics to postal carriers, warehouse operators and stock clerks. Now, think about how many more jobs will be added as the industry grows over time and you begin to see yet another reason why this study is so important."
In Memphis, Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely hosted a news conference along with Dan Flowers, the head of the Arkansas DOT, and other state and local officials, industry, and businesses. Nicely said,
"To accommodate this predicted growth in freight movement, we need to think nationally, regionally and on a multi-modal level," says Gerald Nicely, commissioner of the Tennessee DOT. "Central to this effort should be the creation of a National Multimodal Freight Plan to ensure that transportation investments are coordinated and made where most needed. By linking trucks, rail, waterway transport and aviation, freight can be moved more efficiently throughout the nation."